This week’s portion shifts from the Jewish people’s travels in the desert to the story of Bilam, the anti-Semitic prophet who attempted to curse the Children of Israel. Hired by Balak, the king of Moav, Bilam embarks upon a journey to the Israelite encampment. An angel brandishing a sword blocks Bilam’s path, causing his donkey to repeatedly swerve off the road. Unable to see the angel, Bilam responds by striking the donkey three times. Miraculously, G-d causes the donkey to speak to Bilam – – shades of Mr. Ed, the talking horse in the 1960’s TV show! Bilam’s eyes are uncovered, and the humiliated prophet sees the angel standing in the path. The angel reminds Bilam that he may only speak the words that G-d places in his mouth. Upon arrival near the Jewish camp, Bilam repeatedly attempts to curse the people; each time G-d prevents him from doing so, but instead he ends up uttering several sets of praises, much to Balak’s dismay. The Torah portion concludes with the Jewish men’s debauchery with the promiscuous daughters of Moav and Midian, and the public immoral act of Zimri (a prince of the tribe of Simeon) with a Midianite princess. Pinchas, Aaron’s grandson, zealously responds by piercing them to death with a spear, halting a plague from G-d which had broken out in the camp.
The Three Weeks
The Three Weeks is an annual mourning period that falls out in the summer. We mourn the destruction of the Holy Temple and our launch into a still-ongoing exile. The period begins on the 17th of the Hebrew month of Tammuz, a fast day that marks the day when the walls of Jerusalem were breached by the Romans in 69 CE. The Fast of the 17th of Tammuz is observed Sunday, July 21.